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Blue Devils look to end Silver Foxes’ streak

December 2, 2016

Williston-Elko has had one of the state’s most consistently good football programs in Class A for the last decade, but what stands in front of the Blue Devils this Friday is uncharted territory even for them — December football.

Sure, that’s thanks in large part to Hurricane Matthew and the postponements that followed, but the fact remains that this group of Blue Devils (9-2) has an opportunity to do something that just simply hasn’t been an option before. But it’s here now, and on a weekend usually reserved for Class AAA and AAAA state championships they’ll face Lamar (11-0) with a berth in the Upper State final on the line.

“Just to be in that mix, for us, it’s just a real good feeling,” said Williston-Elko head coach Derek Youngblood. “We’ve improved every week, and we’ve been able to put ourselves in a position to go out there and play and hopefully put ourselves in position to play for the Upper State championship.”

Playing late into November is far from foreign for the Blue Devils, who played for three consecutive state championships between 2008-10. The same goes for tradition-rich Lamar, the defending state champion on a 19-game winning streak that has made it to at least the state semifinals in eight of the last 10 seasons.

Youngblood sees some similarities between the programs, and Lamar’s is one he knows well going back to his playing days at Williston-Elko. He got to know then-Lamar coach JR Boyd through Dean Boyd, Youngblood’s coach at Williston-Elko, and he got to see them first hand by scrimmaging them as a player. A few pages on the calendar may have turned since then, but Youngblood is still well aware of the kind of athletes that litter the roster at Lamar. And he’s good friends with current Silver Foxes head coach Corey Fountain, who coaches at his old high school just like Youngblood.

The top-ranked Silver Foxes may not be loaded with 240- and 250-pound players, but Youngblood said it doesn’t take long to see on film how hard they play. And they like to use a variety of athletes in their double-wing offense that can produce a big gain at any time.

“That’s always scary, because you’ve potentially got four guys in the backfield that can run the ball,” said Youngblood. “We’ve been in a situation even running the Wishbone where at times it felt like we had two, two and a half. We never really had three that we felt like could run it and score from anywhere. Those guys got four guys back there in the backfield that, one missed tackle, one busted play, and they can go.”

Youngblood said Lamar’s offense is similar in some ways to Barnwell’s, but even the Warhorses don’t have the sheer number of home-run threats in the backfield at once. Instead, the Silver Foxes run everyone, meaning Williston-Elko will have to be ready for, at the very least, the speedy Jacquez Lucas (854 yards, 11 touchdowns this season), Jeblonski Green (65 yards and a touchdown last week) and Zach McClain (82 yards and a touchdown last week), in addition to quarterback Rashard Coleman.

The Blue Devils are coming off perhaps their best defensive outing of the year in last week’s 44-8 win over Hunter-Kinard-Tyler. Stopping the run will be crucial against Lamar, as Youngblood feels the Silver Foxes aren’t going to want to become a pass-happy team. That means the Blue Devils will try to force them into those kinds of situations. To do that, they’ll go back and see what worked against offenses like Silver Bluff’s and Wagener-Salley’s and see how they can apply that to slowing down Lamar.

What slowed the Blue Devils early in last week’s win, during which they trailed 8-0 in the first quarter and 8-6 at halftime, was that they didn’t finish plays offensively in the first half. That absolutely cannot happen against a Lamar defense that has recorded four shutouts and is allowing an average of just a touchdown per game. And at the rate the Silver Foxes can score – they’re averaging around 40 points per game – the Blue Devils could be finished early if they’re again unable to finish early.

“If we go out there and have a bad first half, we could be down by 40,” Youngblood said. ”... We’re going to need to come out swinging and put ourselves in position to be in the game at the end. If you look at some of the scores of some of the games they’ve had this year, they’ve run away with some of theirs. We can’t put ourselves in position to get behind the eight-ball. That doesn’t fit our style very well.”

Dixie found that out the hard way in a 54-0 battering at Lamar last week. The Silver Foxes shut down the Hornets’ Wing-T offense, forcing Dixie out of its comfort zone. The Hornets tried to pass, but two pick-sixes in a 45-second span made it 40-0 Lamar after just 15:12 of game time.

Being more multiple on offense this year than in years past could benefit the Blue Devils against Lamar, which Youngblood doesn’t think has had to play a team yet that can be equally successful spreading it out or running out of the Wishbone rather than only opting for the pass out of desperation. Williston-Elko can throw a variety of formations at a defense without losing effectiveness, and that’s something that can stress a defense out because that’s just that many different things to game plan for.

The Blue Devils have rushing threats in Tyran Parker, the team’s leader with just shy of 1,200 yards this season and Tyshawn Allen, a player who has a knack for providing a big play on offense or defense whenever they need it. Fabian Bing is another proven option in the backfield, Trenton Jamison scored three times last week, and quarterback Will Nolind has even shown off his wheels this season. When Nolind stays in the pocket, he has big, physical outside threats in Demarkiis Doe and Keshawn Toney that can be a matchup problem for anybody. Ultimately, though, the offense will go as far as the blockers up front can take it.

Williston-Elko hasn’t advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs since 2011, and it will take a win over a team that’s been unbeatable since last October to accomplish that this year. Still, don’t expect to see the Blue Devils do anything differently than what’s brought them so much success for so many years.

″(The Silver Foxes) know their scheme; they know it well, they play it well. They’re a good football team,” Youngblood said. “It’s December – everybody’s good now. We’ve just got to go out there and try to execute and just give ourselves a chance; go out there and play the best we can. That’s all we’ve ever told our kids to do for the last eight years here. ... We’ve gone out and done that sometimes and won, and we’ve gone out and done that sometimes and lost. That’s all you can ask a kid to do is go out and play the best that they can and trust their preparation and play the football game.”